Simple arc tracking

I just put a note in my AM workspace that I thought I might share in this blog too.
A really simple arc tracking method. I know there are all sorts of tools for arc tracking out there, but I really don't see why anything complicated needs to be done. This method is simple and fast, and it just uses what is already built into the software (in this case Maya): 
- place the body in a separate layer and hide this (or put it in a set and hide it from there: either way you want to be able to easily turn it on and off)
- create a locator, give it a name like "LocatorGhostBody", scale it down to something tiny, maybe 0.2 or 0.1 in all scl axis.
- parent-constrain the locator to the ballie_ac_C_body triangle control. It's handy to leave that control visible to also be able to see rotations
- ghost just the locator, to 20 frames before and 20 frames after.
- because it's the simplest of primitives, the locator's ghosting updates fast and unlike ghosted geometry you don't need to be in High Quality Rendering mode for it to work nicely. If an animation change is made, you just need to re-scrub over that segment of animation to get it to update (doesn't update immediately as in SI unfortunately).
- when you're done, choose Animate > Unghost All.
- you can make as many locator constraints as needed to track arcs for any location. It's a good idea to point constrain to geometry with this in many cases. For example, to a heel. [edit: actually, just constraining with an offset is simple enough. Point-snap-match to the desired place on geometry, then just parent constrain to the object, with offset]
- the same thing can be done for knees, though in that case because they're small it's a lot more workable to just ghost them directly.

Pretty much got this tip from Jon Collins last class, it was his suggestion. Previously I had only really been ghosting geometry, which is often massively confusing.


Smoother playblast trick

I've got a nice trick to get a one-up antialiasing with a playblast. You playblast to 960x720, export frames, resize in Photoshop via batch to the 480 x 360 AM standard, then bring in to Quicktime again. Results are smoother. My video card isn't "pro", doesn't do RT antialiasing in Maya (though it does in Softimage). So that's a cheat workaround; I used it for the shots I didn't render in my recent progress reel. [2012 09 04 edit: resizing via Quicktime during an export & compression save does a fairly decent job and is far more convenient. There's normally no need for such precious treatment of playblasts. Save it for final output].

Balance theory

Here's a little exploration of thoughts I've been mulling over regarding balance. AM is doing just fine in terms of delivering content for general-purpose understanding with the idea of "line of balance". But I know very well that this simplification applies mainly to static postures. In dynamic situations, balance is a far more complex thing. Here is a little attempt at putting a formulation to it. In this train of thought, the character's kinesthetic mind would be seeking to zero out B. With static and slow motions, F can be thought of as being close to 1, if 1 represents the everyday force of gravity, the force the body is most familiar with. In such a case, A could be give a 1, in the sense of the scenario being fully anticipated, and similarly the unexpected can be given a 1 in the sense that it is also "under control". So then B zeroes out. B also zeroes out if there is no force: freefall, irrespective of A and U. But where it gets interesting is when you have dynamic motion. Balance must be accomplished in terms of the line of the sum-force-vector NOT gravity alone. I've seen a lot of students failing to realize this, trying to balance to gravity with a change of direction, for example, where the character must lean into the curve, or trying to balance over each foot in a walk where the body never goes that far to one side or another (though usually the problem lies in not moving sufficiently to one side or another).
Even more interesting is the entire process of taking into account what the character is aware of and already dealing with - the aniticipate - vis-a-vis what the character is not yet aware of and so is not yet balancing against - the unexpected. The delay from observation to reaction should be around 2 or 3 frames. Depending on the nature of the unexpected occurrence, this means that the character can deal with most situations but when change occurs very quickly (or is obscured from the character's perception for some reason or another) the character will not be able to comfortably deal with that. Well, then you have loss of balance and a fall / trip / plunge / what have you. But even then the character responds as best it can to catch itself and rebalance.

Stronger forces call for stronger counter-anticipation and motions. Smaller forces (that is, in play upon the character), oddly enough, leave a character more vulnerable to the unexpected. A character that is already in motion is in a safer situation with regards to the unexpected than a character that is at rest. The force at play can be converted to many actions, so this conversion potential makes any sort of motion useful even before a clear intent has yet been arrived upon. So jumping in response to danger, for example, will occur reflexively; then by the time the body has begun to return downwards, the mind will have been able to choose a course of action and can then apply that downwards force into a more powerful escape or action that it will now have arrived upon. It is interesting how the unexpected is factored into the motion and posturing. It is a sort of knowing of the potential nature of the unknown.
This makes sense when considering the animal world, where the natural response to perceived threat is escape; fright and flight. Any reaction is usually better than no reaction, potential embarrassment is better than potential injury, and this is built into the system. Even in a static posture, dynamic equilibrium can be at play in terms of potential motion resulting from the pose. So, a fighter's stance will have legs set apart and knees slightly bent. Although this pose is static, it anticipates motion, permitting potential motion in any direction at a moment's notice. As opposed to a vertical stance, which requires a side-step before directional motion is possible, a split-second delay that could be deadly in a battle situation. A small creature will hunch down for safety. Aside from benefits of concealment, this also accomplishes a similar wide-base stance that enables escape motion in any direction from that starting point. The A-frame stance simply needs one leg to be lifted for motion to initiate in that direction. The imbalance enables the creature to have greater equilibrium of security.
Yet in a fully benign context of walking, the A-frame stance is just as fundamental for the motion, and is reiterated in roughly the same manner whatever the current intentionality of motion is: beginning, continuing / perpetuating, ending, or reversing.

All of these processes are descriptions of dynamic equilibrium within an intelligent or thinking system.

I know that in the robotic sciences there are all sorts of formulas and feedback loops that are now fairly well established in proceduralizing these sorts of things. What I'm exploring here would be a layman's approximation of such things. But a simple device or mnemonic could be of some use. I wonder how similar or different this one is from what else is out there? Furthermore, with animation you are going to be layering personality and character into the whole process; and top all of that off with interesting timing and motion. If the character is balanced, the sense of balance will show itself in the motion as well, in terms of a sort of confidence about the situation. If the character is unbalanced, the motion will again be different to also reflect the character's emotion: nervous, unnerved, or perhaps sufficiently optimistic to still maintain confidence, as with an idiot savant, drunken walk, or goof-hero personality. But it is interesting that a thinking system is both inherently unbalanced and designed to operate through ongoing processes of imbalance. So a lot of motion is well within the familiar realm of human motion, and the body goes about accomplishing most of it with little need for attention from higher-level conscious thought.

I really look forward to exploring these sorts of things in greater depth through the art of animation. In terms of course content, it's still a bit farther down the road. But there are already places here and there in the assignments where it is possible to start taking these things into consideration.

I also really look forward to applying, overtop of the physics, the dream-realms, once a situation bears the freedom to explore that way as well. That is a whole other matter, yet for it to work well it is bound to call for very similar considerations all the same.

As with many artistic tasks, the trick is making conscious use of subconscious routines and, to some extent, gaining control over the subconscious.


The outer limits of Walk

Something that occurred to me regarding extremes and limits. The context is that of walk cycles, and the general shape of the Y (up/down) Translate parameter in the Graph Editor / Animation Editor.

The general gist of this thought was covered in video lectures. However, I think this is an interesting diagrammatic distillation of the matter. So, on the extreme light side, you'd be getting someone who's almost "skipping along": no shortage of energy to "pop" out of the contacts, something not much different from the motion of a bouncing ball. Then on the other extreme, the majority of the motion is the labour of heaving one's weight through the contact segment; doubtless mainly two-legged contact, with fast "ups" to quickly plant the feet for the next swing-through.

And right through the middle, a Sine-like curve for good ol' Vanilla.

If only everything were so simple as a diagram suggests. But I think it holds up, I quite like it.

(What flavors are the other two walks? Maybe "skippy" is strawberry, and "hefty" is chocolate?)


Regarding long lists of names

Just wanted to show off Jon Collins in the credits of Pixar's UP. It's the first time I've been able to say "I know that guy!" when looking at the credits of a big screen movie. Go Jon! Up with Jon!

My parents like to comment on how one day they'll see me "up there in the credits" one day.
It's funny how that's "as good as it gets" for us, down here on earth.
I could spend a lifetime to "just" get my name down on a list.

Definitely! If it's "the right sort of list" to be on. A good list. Then sure. That's fine by me.

But even if I don't, they'd love me all the same. It's a real blessing, that.

My oldest son loves watching the credits at the end of movies. I used to always think it was an acquired taste. Nah. He'll play them over and over. It's for the music, mainly. But he's already trying to read the words too. (He's 5 years old now).


some random reflections

Back in the day. Here's a look back to Gypsy Joe puppetry of years gone by. The crowning achievements of this work. Dramatically speaking, the crowning achievement was definitely Pilgrim's Progress. Our troupe for that production is seen in the first two images above. The performance was about 2 hours long, with a short intermission. We sold tickets, raised some funds - all for charity, if I remember correctly. I played the lead part of Christian. That's my mom and dad in there as well. Dad did most of the hard work, building everything from the ground up. All the puppets, the theater, the sound, the whole thing. I helped out mostly with props and puppet work on that side. And then of course the practices and performance work were all team efforts by our group of young volunteers.

The second crowning achievement of Gypsy Joe was HIV/AIDS and general public health work in Zimbabwe. I also participated in this, at one time being a troupe leader in a sister troupe from this one, doing awareness campaigns in the Matopos, over a 2-year-or-so period (until our funding ran out!) back around 2001-2003. In the case of these latter performances, the audience was often very large. Typically an entire school plus all sorts of curious comers from the communities. It helped that we were working in a regions which did not typically yet have television, so the impact of the creative methods was optimal. These performances were also, of course, team efforts. There would be just-for-fun games as well, song and dance, marimba / musical performances. It was quite a show. In my case, the performances were typically done at halftime with local soccer matches. The work was successful enough to produce a measurable reduction in the HIV rates in the areas, against national trends and infection rates (which at the time were the worst in the world), over the years that followed.

The Gypsy Joe troupe at Howard Hospital, Zimbabwe, is still active, still doing public health - related performances in the Chiweshe area. Ask any child in that area: they know Gypsy Joe.

Those were the days. It's funny to think about it right now, because at the time this never seemed to be directly related to my personal interests. But here I am becoming an animator right now. And in fact this work led directly and naturally to what I'm doing today. It is nice to be able to move the whole body, and (at more advanced stages) to be able to include full facial expressions. But fundamentally, it's much the same thing; the essence of it is the same, the fundamentals of it are all closely related.


One word:


Animation Mentor Class 1 Progress Reel (first of 6 classes)

Here is my first Animation Mentor progress reel, the compiled work from Class 1. I've just spent much of the last two weeks polishing it up. I'm very glad I carefully went through all my critique videos from Jon Collins before the end of term, because we lose access to them with the start of each new class. The classes are 12 weeks long, and there are six in total.

I learned TONS. I couldn't begin to describe.
You also get only as much out of something like this as you put in, so I'm putting in as much time and effort as I can get ahold of pretty much every week.

I really have to repeat that the revision work over the last two weeks alone has been a major learning experience. I can already see the improvement, easily spotting problem areas that weren't on my radar at the start of the process.

Jon was a great mentor, he did a really good job. His feedback was awesome, he really pinpointed key and essential things to improve each time.

Tailor and Pendulum were the hardest two assignments by far. The two went through many fixes to get to their presented form.

The obstacle course was fun. As you can see I opted to design my own rather than use one of the courses on the AM picklist.

I'm really enjoying the social aspects of the school. It's an excellent contrast to past years of efforts I've spent working on my own as a freelancer. One more reason a studio animation career is an attractive proposition.

I'd love to share some regarding the lessons I'm learning, but I'm not sure where I'd start. I might put in some samples of my musings in future postings, we'll see.